by Kerstin Ekman
My dad gave me this one by Swedish writer Kerstin Ekman. It’s a mystery/thriller with some conventions we Americans might be surprised by.
Set in the 1970s, in the mountains of Sweden, there is a murder. The protagonist is a 30-something mother who has decided to leave her life as a teacher in Stockholm and trek it up to live with her former student-turned-boyfriend on a commune in the mountains surrounding the very rural town of Blackwater. She arrives to encounter a cast of characters who are less friendly than she imagined they would be. The local store owner and his wife seem put off by her and her daughter’s presenence, despite the appearance of poverty. While at this local store she also encounters a group of crude mountain boys who are pissing, throwing their empties, etc., just as crude mountain boys might.
Ekman is a master at creating situations or encounters that are not quite what is reasonably expected. This style creates an often imperceptible stress or discomfort in the reader. That is even before the protagonist happens upon the aftermath of a brutal murder scene at a remote campsite.
Some things that make this novel interesting to an American reader:
- Taking her time. As a thriller, this novel plods along, taking its sweet time as we explore all facets of a strikingly unromantic Swedish mountain life.
The forest. I felt deep in the forest myself. It got under my skin. In this way, the novel is excellent writing.
- The clear distinctions between and biases among Swedes, Finns and Norwegians.
- Life among crude, brutish mountain men.
- The very frank language of sex and sexuality. This was great.
- A massive cast of characters. I’m not used to so many suspects, and characters with cross-purposes.
As the reader of a thriller, I got lost. She tries to accomplish too many things. A big, unstoppable conglomerate is leveling the mountainsides as folks try to establish a commune. Mixed into this small, problematic population are those trying to occupy the land only to protect it from the tree-killers. Then there are the hikers. And many, many the locals. Aside from placing a vast array of characters in proximity to each other, it’s never clear what most of them have to do with the murders. It is almost as if the novel is social commentary in the guise of a thrillers. Well, that’s not so bad.